Development can be viewed as a dynamic progression through regulatory states which characterise the various cell types within a given differentiation cascade. To understand the progression of regulatory states that define the origin and subsequent development of haematopoietic stem cells, the first imperative is to understand the ontogeny of haematopoiesis. We are fortunate that the ontogeny of blood development is one of the best characterized mammalian developmental systems. However, the field is still in its infancy with regard to the reconstruction of gene regulatory networks and their interactions with cell signalling cascades that drive a mesodermal progenitor to adopt the identity of a haematopoietic stem cell and beyond. Nevertheless, a framework to dissect these networks and comprehend the logic of its circuitry does exist and although they may not as yet be available, a sense for the tools that will be required to achieve this aim is also emerging. In this review we cover the fundamentals of network architecture, methods used to reconstruct networks, current knowledge of haematopoietic and related transcriptional networks, current challenges and future outlook.